They tried not to hover, but the hallway outside the lab was almost crowded.
Beckett was keenly aware of that, running the tests under the most exacting conditions he could devise, as fast as he could.
Finally, though, he stood and nodded once, glanced at the others, and headed for the door.
"Still don't get it," Ronon said flatly.
"You know nature of blood," Zelenka said. "Plasma, white blood cells, red blood cells, red blood cells carry oxygen from lungs to all parts of the body."
"This virus needs oxygen. It takes from the lungs, but causes the pneumonia. Then it has no more access, takes it from the red blood cells. Like oxygen vampire?"
Dex stared at him blankly, and Zelenka nodded. "I meant, oxygen wraith. Body fights effect of virus – fluid in lungs, fever."
"Got it so far."
They were standing by Sheppard, still in his wheelchair, and Teyla, watching as the airlock was loaded with materials. Coolers, tubes, all sorts of things went in the space designed to hold one person.
"Right. Whoever designed virus knew nothing of winter, change of seasons. Cold made it inert. Warmth, for more than about a year, activated it." He snorted. "Dumb luck McKay. Never went more than eight months in nice weather, always spent three, four months in cold. Virus based in lungs, lungs breathed cold air off and on for weeks, virus stayed asleep."
Ronon nodded. "Still with you." He eyed Sheppard, who was looking more drawn with each moment passing, though still stubbornly remaining. He understood this man more with each day, and found in him someone to trust, to follow.
"So. Virus now very awake, throughout body. Doctor Beckett must kill virus without killing McKay. Cold does it. He will induce hypothermia, make him very, very cold, whole body, and keep him alive doing it. Will take maybe hours…"and he, too, glanced at Sheppard.
"I'm okay," the pilot said, knowing their thoughts. He shifted in his chair, caught his breath.
"Right." Zelenka dragged out the word, sarcasm evident.
"But if this works…" Teyla said.
"McKay will be fine, maybe take some time to get over pneumonia but virus will be gone."
Ronon nodded, satisfied. "Now I get it."
The nurse finished unloading the airlock, and closed her side. With no one in it, the airlock cycled again in seconds, and Beckett stepped in.
"Doc?" Sheppard said, raising his voice a bit.
"I know," Beckett replied, and his voice held conviction. "This will work, John. I know it."
Sheppard nodded, half-smiled. "Tell him…we said 'hi'."
"We've been talking to him for hours," Dex said in an aside to Zelenka, who simply nodded.
Teyla leaned over. "It is a substitute for many things, Ronon. It is not the custom of Earth males to say what they mean." She laid a gentle hand with care on Sheppard's good shoulder, and the smile on his face broadened a bit.
"How do you know where you stand?" It was an obvious question.
"Actions speak, my friend. Actions speak," Zelenka replied. "And is not all Earth males, just ones from decadent West who conceal behind words."
There was a small snicker from Sheppard, and they settled in to wait.
Beckett had done so many controversial things in medicine since coming to the Pegasus galaxy that he was beginning to wonder about himself. Using hypothermia in a hyperbaric chamber to kill an alien virus was about par for the course. He half-chuckled, moving the cooler closer, then sighed. He did what he had to do. If he didn't, people died. Friends died. If he did, people still died, friends still died. He knew it was a dangerous way to practice medicine, but what alternative did he really have?
Simple cooling blankets and caps wouldn't work, and he had to take his friend down to about 26 Celsius, hold his temperature there and do blood tests and sputum tests until the 'bots began to die. He'd found an experimental alternative. Of course it was experimental. And simulations told him it could be as long as four hours before they were all dead.
At first glance, it was a heck of a choice. The problem with this was that it was a balancing act. Too long and there was the chance of tissue damage, too short and the 'bots would survive. Without the treatment, though, they would lose McKay. And then it wasn't even a decision, put that way. Now, the only consideration was getting the delicate balancing act exactly right.
He pulled the supplies further in and let Shawna out, there truly was room for only one other person in there, and by the time she had decompressed things would probably be over…one way or the other.
Dex wandered the hall, moving noiselessly from one hallway junction to another. Nighttime on Atlantis was quieter, but never completely still - late night projects kept some up, and there were always the security patrols. He nodded politely to one soldier who raised a hand in acknowledgement, and kept on his quest.
He had made it a point to learn some of the rhythms of the city, especially as it pertained to his team.
He knew, for instance, that at this late hour the Lieutenant Colonel would generally be in his quarters, but likely not asleep. The man he now called commander had a darkness to his soul that he concealed to everyone, or thought he did - shortly after being accepted on the team he'd mentioned it to McKay and the normally garrulous man had refused to talk, calling it Sheppard's story to tell, if he ever chose to. He'd accepted that.
Teyla had certain habits she followed while in Atlantis, though she was suitably unpredictable in the field. He'd observed, once, that predictability was dangerous, to which she'd replied that it was the city of the Ancestors, and if he wasn't safe here - which they weren't - they couldn't be safe anywhere. Which they couldn't. Her point was, though, and he thought he understood, a habit was a small pleasure to her, and her habit of going to bed with the sun was left from her childhood. The ability to indulge it here was special.
And he knew, on any other night, he'd be able to pass McKay's lab even at this hour and the man would be there, working on something. The scientist was able to survive on almost as little sleep as Ronon himself, and it was one of the many things he'd grown to respect about the quixotic genius. His excitable nature and irritating mannerisms belied strength of character that Ronon could appreciate. He had avoided entering the first two times, but the third time McKay had waved something he called a 'power bar' and invited him to try it. After that, he generally stopped in for a few moments, simply to say hello. And occasionally, split a power bar.
On any other night.
He drew a deep breath. That was the problem. It wasn't any other night. Sheppard wasn't in his quarters, but in the infirmary. McKay wasn't in his lab, but in a chamber, gradually decompressing, warming, after a radical treatment that had saved his life. Teyla wasn't asleep.
He turned his steps to the infirmary.Chapter 13
She was sitting on a bed next to the sleeping Sheppard, eyes closed, but she opened them as Dex approached.
"How is he?"
She slipped gracefully off the bed, laid one hand on a bandaged shoulder. Sheppard didn't move, sleeping deeply, lying on his stomach, the wounds re-dressed and a generous amount of painkiller flooding his system.
"Knowing Dr. McKay will recover has given him peace," she said, "and he is able to sleep." She looked up. "I am glad to see you."
Dex frowned slightly. "You are…"
"Glad to see you." She smiled, but it faded as he didn't return it. "You're troubled."
"People aren't usually glad to see me. If I do it right, they don't even know I'm there."
She merely looked at him, waiting.
"I…don't know if I should stay." He couldn't say if he meant there, in the infirmary, or there - on Atlantis.
"You are welcome here. You know that." He looked at her helplessly, and she suddenly understood. "You are not used to being welcome."
"I've been running for seven years, Teyla," he said roughly. "I spend a bit of time here, there, and I leave." He glanced at Sheppard. "He was in pain, and I felt compassion. When it seemed as if Dr. McKay was going to die, I felt sorrow. I saw how you mourn your lost friend Ford, and how your team-mates injuries hurt you, and I wanted to help you."
Teyla touched his arm gently, and he jerked away, but stopped.
"My reflexes won't let me relax. I haven't known peace for so long, I'm not certain what to do when I have it."
"Do not leave," she said firmly. "Not that you are bound here, but you are welcome." She emphasized the last word. "You are among friends. You have seen, as I have said, here on Atlantis, no one fights their battles alone - unless they choose to."
He was weary, he suddenly realized, and he sighed. "Right now - I don't choose to," he said, accepting the shift in his life for now, deciding that he'd work out how to deal with it later.
"You are tired." She gestured to the bed. "Sleep, and I will watch over you both."
"Dr. Beckett will not mind," she said gently.
"I'll have a short nap," he stated, then looked at her. "If I'm needed by anyone, please wake me."
"If there is any change in either of their conditions, I will wake you," she confirmed, knowing what he was really asking.
He smiled, then, a small one, and laid himself down, and closed his eyes, and slept.
The faint rubber-on-stone squeak roused Dex, but - for the first time in ages - he didn't let the unfamiliar sound bring him to his feet, weapon in hand.
He heard Teyla move to the door.
"Dr. McKay." Her voice held her relief.
"What's left," the scientist replied hoarsely, and another knot of concern Dex didn't realize he had unraveled.
"Is Ronon ill?" That was Weir, and she sounded truly concerned. There was a pause, and he could almost see Teyla thinking.
"The past events were - alarming. He felt the need of company, as did I."
"Sheppard. John?" McKay's raspy voice was closer, on the other side of the Lieutenant Colonel, and the scientist was clearly worried. "Carson..."
"Lie back, Rodney." The doctor's accent was more subdued. That meant, he now knew, that Beckett wasn't particularly stressed, which was a good thing.
"Lie back. He's fine. He and Radek and Hermoid were researching the nanovirus, and he overdid, is all."
Overdid. Understatement. They'd tried to talk Sheppard out of walking over to the viewport, and it had given Beckett a turn to see Sheppard's face in the window, but then to see it suddenly vanish was worse. Dex had peered in and given the Scot a nod, catching Sheppard as he collapsed outside the chamber, the back of his shirt covered in blood. Hoffman had been very irate that Sheppard had undone all that good work, and shooed Ronon out while he repaired it.
And they hadn't known, then, if the risky procedure had worked. That news had come later.
"Slide over...good," Beckett said, and there was a susurrous movement.
The shift by McKay triggered a round of coughing, but it held none of the tearing quality Dex remembered. It was logical that it would have woken him, so he opened his eyes and sat.
Weir smiled at him from her place by the bottom of Sheppard's bed, and he gave her a respectful nod, then looked over at McKay, who was protesting the mask.
"McKay," he said. "Co-operate."
"Easy for you to say..." and it would have turned into one of his rambling complaints if he hadn't started coughing again. Beckett slipped the mask on, and McKay lay back again, resignedly.
"A lot easier for me to say than you, apparently." Dex stood and walked over, nudging the Lieutenant Colonel. "Wake up," he said. "We have company."
"Let him sleep..." Weir began, then stopped herself. Dex tilted his head, and she nodded, understanding.
He knew these men had been through a lot together, and he knew how shared danger forged teams from unlikely groups. But these two had an easy friendship that approached true brotherhood, born of mutual respect and affection, and he knew, that if he were Sheppard, he wouldn't want to be asleep when evidence that his worst nightmare had not come true was lying in the bed next to him.
Sheppard peeled an eyelid back, adjusted himself slightly, opened the other, and focused.
McKay raised his eyebrows, grinning behind the mask. "Hey."
"Hey," Sheppard replied, eyes sliding shut again, an expression of content on his face mirrored by the one McKay wore.
It wasn't much, but Dex knew it was all they needed. He stretched, yawning, drawing attention from the two and deliberately breaking the mood before it all got too maudlin.
"It's late. I think we should all go to bed."
"Very good idea," Carson agreed, and escorted Weir to the door. Dex turned to Teyla, who smiled slightly.
"Meet you back here in ten minutes?" he asked quietly. "I saw some chairs in the other room."
Beckett wandered through his infirmary. It was, for a change, quiet; he'd sent Sheppard and McKay to get some sun, and had taken the time to review the data retrieved from their communication drone in the SGC. Atlantis had immediately passed on what they'd learned about the artifact and its dangers, and a warning, and had opened the wormhole this morning for a followup to find a report waiting for them. What he'd learned had scared him.
The report was straightforward, alarming in its simplicity. The lab on Earth had pulled the artifact from storage, exposed it to several mice, and there had been no effect. However, they had then exposed it to several possible triggers – temperature changes, humidity changes, energy spikes – and the spike had set the thing off. They'd promised to update him on the progress of the disease, and they had promised to work for a cure.
Why didn't he feel better?
How many of those artifacts were out there? If they'd been designed as a biological weapon, and he had no reason to think they hadn't, then how long before something triggered them?
Who designed them?
And – worst of all – he'd been told the artifact had been destroyed. But he wasn't certain that it had been. Not certain at all.
He stopped at the two beds that McKay and Sheppard were occupying during their convalescence. It was a triumph, he knew, and it was a tribute to the people he worked with. And he should be pleased, and he was, at least, that McKay would recover. But talk of the Goa'uld spies; a situation he knew they'd have to address sooner or later; and evidence of the nanovirus…a lot of beings wanted them dead, or slaves.
It was enough to drive a Scot to drink. Instead, he nodded to Shawna, and headed out to find some coffee and conversation.Chapter 14
Even limited freedom was a good thing. Sheppard stood to stretch his legs, and leaned over the railing, reveling in the sun on his face.
"I'm telling," McKay grumped.
"You are not," denied Sheppard.
McKay pulled himself out of his own chair and took a couple unsteady steps himself, grabbing the railing like a first-time skater. The worst of it was over, and he was still far weaker than he liked to admit, but getting better.
Sheppard turned, resting an elbow on the top. "You, though, should not be on your feet yet, and I am definitely telling."
McKay snorted, closing his eyes and breathing in the sea air, a long slow breath that was as much a sigh of satisfaction as anything.
"Enjoying yourself?" Sheppard asked mildly.
"Yes, as it happens." McKay straightened a bit, then wavered, and Sheppard took a step to close the gap.
"Schmuck," he said affectionately, wrapping an arm around his friend. "Sit down before you fall down."
Somehow, they made it back before McKay's knees gave out entirely, and Sheppard half-fell into his own chair. They sat in silence for a moment.
"So – um," McKay began, and somehow Sheppard knew what the subject would be. "They – uh – they all died?"
"The seven on your team? Yes, I'm afraid so."
"Uh huh." McKay nodded, not looking at him. "You sent word to destroy the artifact? No one else was infected, were they?"
"Yes, and no."
There was silence for a moment.
"They were nice to me, you know that?"
He shifted, having an idea of what was coming. "Who?"
"Javed and Zora. Kept asking me to dinner, trying to socialize me. I went once. They had kids."
Sheppard kept his mouth shut.
"I don't like kids, but I didn't mind these ones. They were polite. Called me 'Doctor McKay'. And it was only for a couple hours, anyway. They asked me again, a couple weeks later."
"Did you go?"
"Nah. The project was winding down, and I had too much to do." His mouth twisted. "Wonder what happened to the kids."
And that was enough of that. Sheppard had, sadly, enough experience with a recovering McKay to know when to short-circuit a serious funk and bring him back to his acerbic self. He leaned over and whacked him lightly on the shoulder.
"You're in a fine mood, you are." he said.
"Well, considering I spent the last week gasping like a gigged fish; and finding out you'd gone and got yourself turned into sushi didn't help either. I think I'm entitled." McKay cut his eyes sideways, but there was an ease of tension in his face.
Sheppard nodded. "I guess you are. Just don't go abusing the privilege." He held the gaze, though, and said frankly, "I'd have missed you."
McKay's expression lightened, and he smiled slightly. "I'd have missed you too." He mock-frowned. "Now I have to thank, of all people, Kavanagh, for going into harm's way."
"Don't I get a thank you?"
McKay snorted. "My undying gratitude isn't enough?"
"Make it undying for certain, then, and we have a deal." He glanced away, but the smile on McKay's face was broad and genuine, and wiped out the lines of worry and pain completely. The physicist looked up, over his shoulder.
"Found you." It was Dex behind him, and beside him was Teyla.
"Well, you are a tracker," McKay replied, grinning.
"We have come to take you to lunch. There is a small celebration planned." Teyla moved up behind Sheppard, taking the handles.
"Beckett said something about cake." Dex did the same to McKay's chair, and leaned over. "What's cake?"
"Oh, you wouldn't like it," McKay said. "You can give me your piece."
"If you like it, I'll like it. I'm learning that," the runner replied, swinging McKay around and heading inside.
He looked at Teyla, and her joy was in her eyes. She had lost so much, he mused; they all had, and he was glad for all of them that there wouldn't be another loss in their life.
It was a week later, and Sheppard had taken on the traditional 'pry the scientists out of the lab so they eat at least one decent meal a day' duty. Zelenka had already left, and McKay had finished his 'one last thing' and headed for the coat rack to deposit his lab coat. Idly, Sheppard turned the laptop towards him.
There was an email open. He glanced up at McKay, who hadn't moved from the rack, simply standing there. No nod, no words, but somehow Sheppard knew he was welcome to read it.
It was from a Tahyieh Penter, a note thanking McKay for the kind letter, and expressing appreciation for the college fund he'd set up for her brother's children. It contained an invitation to dinner.
He looked up again, but McKay had turned and was busying himself with his coat. He closed the laptop, and they headed out, no discussion needed.
Somehow, though, he wasn't surprised.